“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will.” — George Bernard Shaw, 19th century Irish playwright, critic, and social reformer

  • Visioning is sometimes an innate natural skill just like leadership sometimes is. And the moon sometimes blocks out the sun — but not very often. Most people have had to consciously, and with great effort, continually work to strengthen their visioning. Visionary leaders are seldom born that way. Nor are they necessarily charismatic. They have had to work at making visioning habitual.

    Following is a menu of pathways and pitfalls to organizational Focus and Context:

  • Here’s a process I’ve used many times to develop a team vision: (1) The group hears a presenter, watches a video and/or reads inspiring material defining a vision and differentiating it from goal setting. (2) A facilitator guides each person through a visioning exercise imagining the ideal team or organization in five years or more. (3) Group members describe their vision to the rest of the group (if the group is larger than 8 people, break into subgroups of 6 – 8). No agreement or disagreement discussions are allowed. (4) After each person has been heard, the group discusses and summarizes the common themes or images. (5) The group sets action plans for further refinement of the vision and/or communicating to or involving the rest of the organization in a visioning process.
  • We need to picture and describe our preferred future as vividly as possible. One approach is to imagine it is five years from today and we’re being interviewed by a top magazine, leading newspaper, or industry journalist on the phenomenal success our company or team has had.

    Describe the results we’ve achieved and perhaps the approach we’ve used. We need to speak in the present tense as if it’s all happening around us right now. Another approach is to pretend we have a time machine and we’ve traveled ahead to about five years from now. We can look and listen in on the incredible success of our changes or improvements. We will then travel back to today and report to our team what we saw, heard, touched, tasted, smelled and felt. What were our highly loyal customers saying about our team or organization? How were the passionate people throughout our organization talking and acting? How about suppliers? Shareholders? What about other external or internal partners?

  • Too many managers try to delegate “the vision thing” to a committee. It doesn’t work. As managers, caring for the context or culture and providing organization focus isn’t just part of our job, it is our job.
  • Managers who aren’t exceptionally clear and inspiring writers need to be very careful about drafting a “vision statement” and using that as their communications center piece. Visions are about feelings, beliefs, emotions, and pictures. It’s very hard to bring those across on paper (especially if the statement is developed by a committee). Vision ideas or summaries can, and should be committed to paper, and widely circulated. But as a “leave behind,” follow up, or reminder.

    Visions are the most compelling when a leader, who’s an effective communicator, delivers them in person. Powerful personal communication skills and energizing leadership are inseparable. We need to learn how to use “impassioned logic” by adding metaphors, stories, models, or examples to help everyone “see the big picture” and rouse their emotions to make it happen.

  • Our teams or organizations need a shared vision, not something that only a few people own. We need to make everyone a “spiritual stakeholder.” That’s usually a cascading process, but it can start in any part of an organization. Ideally, the senior management team defines the broad parameters of what business we’re in and which direction we’re heading. They can prepare a rough vision for input and refinement or leave things wide open for the rest of the organization to fill in.

    I prefer this approach because senior management’s role is to make those broad decisions and provide directional leadership. In what can be a long series of meetings in a large organization, everyone is brought together to hear — hopefully a passionate — presentation by a senior manager on the organization’s current threats and opportunities and a positive, hopeful picture of how the organization or team will deal with them.

    Each group is then led through a series of exercises to give feedback or input to the vision. But generally the main focus is on developing the team’s vision that links into the larger organizational one. They then move on to identify boosters and barriers to realizing the vision, improvements and changes needed, and set action plans.

  • Invoke pride, stretch everyone’s thinking, and stir the will-to-win emotions. Shoot to shake up the industry or change the rules of the game. Become the fastest, strongest, highest quality, most innovative, or best at something.

Vision is the critical focal point and beginning to high performance. But obviously a vision alone won’t make it happen. Unless the hard work of striving, building, and improving follows, even the most vibrant vision will remain only a dream.